Lawmaker Invites Review of His Advocacy for a Defense Contractor in His District

Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis. Vaughn R. Larson/Wisconsin National Guard

Without commenting on details, the House Ethics Committee on Monday said it is reviewing a matter involving Rep. Tom Petri—something the Wisconsin Republican himself requested amid questions of a potential conflict over his advocacy for a defense contractor in his district in which he owned stock.

"I look forward to the Committee on Ethics completing its review," said Petri, who is retiring at the end of the year after 18 terms, in a statement. "I remain confident that the committee will find that I acted properly, and that I reasonably sought, relied on, and followed the committee's advice and that I complied with House rules."

Petri is now the House's third-most-senior Republican. Only Reps. Don Young of Alaska and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin have more seniority than Petri in the House GOP.

Petri announced in April that he would not run for another term.

Monday's announcement from the House Ethics Committee was the first official confirmation that Petri, 74, was, in fact, being scrutinized by the panel. The joint statement by the committee chairman, Mike Conaway, and the panel's top Democrat, Linda Sanchez, said the case was referred by the Office of Congressional Ethics on July 2.

The OCE serves as an independent watchdog that does an initial vetting of ethics complaints.

The statement from Conaway and Sanchez said the mere disclosure of such a continued investigation does not in itself indicate any violation has occurred. The statement also said that the Ethics Committee would announce its next course of action in the case by Sept. 30.

Typically, under House rules, the Ethics Committee would then decide whether it would expand the two reviews by impaneling special investigative subcommittees. These subpanels would formally consider whether House rules were broken and, if so, possibly recommend punishment. But the time frame for such extended action is running short with Petri's announced retirement.

Still, it was Petri himself who on Feb. 16 wrote to the Ethics Committee asking for a formal review of news articles that had questioned his ownership of stock in companies and his actions on their behalf.

"It is my honor and duty to advocate on behalf of those who live and work in my area: I am distressed by the innuendo in the articles," Petri wrote, enclosing those stories with his letter. "To end any questions, I am requesting that the committee formally review the matter and report back," he wrote.

The articles he attached included those by the Gannett Washington bureau that in February tied Petri's advocacy for Oshkosh Corp., a defense contractor in his district, to his owning hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock in the company.

The Gannett investigation concluded that his stock value had increased by 30 percent while he pushed Oskosh's interests at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. That included defending the awarding of a $3 billion contract in 2009 from the U.S. Army to produce 23,000 armored trucks and trailers—when competitors and other detractors demanded it be reconsidered.

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